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October 19, 2009

I've Got Sicily Under My Skin

Verdura
Verdura Resort and Spa is an entirely a new build except for the golf club, housed in an old tower, and the reception in a former railway station house.
Photo: Verdura Resort and Spa

by Ondine Cohane

Sicily has gotten under my skin. This marks my third annual trip to the Italian island--I first covered it on a pilgrimage to find an Italian wine baron and then last year I scouted its best beaches. This year I found myself first in Palermo, and then at Rocco Forte's new resort, Verdura Resort and Spa, for a quick September getaway.

Palermo, as always, didn't disappoint; a dilapidated chaotic gritty city that's still home to grand palazzi and amazing examples of Arab and Norman architecture. This isn't a sanitized tourist destination, though: on my first night there, all the street lights went out, leaving me in a small alley in total darkness for a good five minutes. Among my new discoveries was the BB22, a chic bed and breakfast next to the Vucurria food market, another one of my picks. BB22 was great, especially for 150 euros, and the staff was friendly and helpful. I also checked out Cana Enoteca, a little wine bar not far from Piazza Marina that proved a gem for its selection of Sicilian vintages (don't miss the reds from Mount Etna), large plates of cheese and local salamis, and cozy wood-paneled atmosphere. If I lived in town, it would definitely become my favored neighborhood spot.

The following morning I headed on to Verdura, a resort that's been generating a lot of buzz in Italy.

Not far from the Valley of the Temples, Verdura sits on its stretch of coast with a private beach, three golf courses, a destination spa, and three restaurants. The property didn't necessarily have a strong sense of place--it was more like one of those gated community hotels you find in parts of Mexico--so it still has a bit of growing in to do. This is not to say that it isn't luxurious--designer Olga Polizzi did a great job with the interiors, the spa and its indoor pool were beautiful, and the views of the sea incredible--but it is more a retreat than a place to sleep when you're not immersing yourself in the "real Sicily."

Luckily, I did get a taste of just that on my way back to the airport. After a stop at the Greek temples that make Agrigento so famous, I wanted a seafood lunch at a local spot. The travel gods were smiling on me that day, because I ended up in Siculiana Marina, a little northwest of Agrigento, where my prayers were answered. At Lustru di Luna (Via Lungomare, 108; 39-0922-815-198) I found a trattoria with outdoor seating perched over one of the prettiest beaches I have seen in Sicily, surrounded by Italian families enjoying Sunday lunch on a unseasonably warm sunny day. A pasta with swordfish and a the most delicious orata (sea bass) set me back just 20 euros. Talk about serendipitous. And all you need is a GPS device to find it.

Further reading:
* Not Your Godfather's Sicily: Away from the island's familiar sweet spots, a new generation of Sicilians is reshaping its wine, food, and hotels (CNT, January 2009)
* Word of Mouth: The buzz worldwide

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